Traditional gender respect. In our traditional societies there was a fairly clear division between the roles of women and men. Women did weaving and plaiting, cared for children, and looked after the household’s functioning, while men did deep-sea fishing, constructed houses and canoes, and engaged in cash production. The vital warfare-cash production role that usually placed men in decision-making or speaking positions with outsiders was significantly reinforced by the colonial moralities. However, it is still obvious that men’s and women’s traditional roles were always equal yet complementary; men and women had their own respective spheres of influence.
Women are half of our nation, but ... While women’s access to health and education has improved, and while more women are in the formal labour force, Solomon Islands women continue to lag behind their male counterparts. In the informal and non-cash labour force, women make substantial contributions to food production and preparation, as well as to home maintenance, school fees, etc. Girls are accessing schools at a lower rate than boys, particu larly from junior secondary school onwards, where the gender gap increases. Women are virtually unrepresented in public offce in Solomon Islands. Studies find that rates of sexual abuse in Solomon Islands to be the third highest of the countries and regions surveyed.
Modernisation has caused a major upheaval in men’s traditional roles. Warfare is gone. An increased dependence on store-bought food items reduces the importance of fishing and farming. Education is generally geared towards the modern, cash-oriented, urban society, rather than to communal livelihoods and village societies. Too, education has begun to treat men and women as equal. These, combined with more available transport, mean that it is common for young men, who traditionally would have been fishing, gardening or cutting copra, to be seen loitering it towns and market places with little to do. Many young men no longer enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that they are making a real contribution to their family and community. This lack manifests itself to some extent in increasing rates of delinquency, alcohol abuse and juvenile delinquency. Meanwhile, women continue to be occupied with much the same domestic chores they have always performed.
Women and men are now competing as well as complementing. There are new roles avail able to men in the ‘modern’ world. Indeed, there are a variety of salaried jobs as well as new political positions that offer money and influence. NGOs, including churches, and even athletic associations provide new avenues of status. All these are also attractive alternatives to the traditional roles that men have lost with the beginnings of modern society. But therein lies the problem. Men see women scrambling for many of the same positions and intruding in a domain that they regard as theirs. Women work in government agencies, they drive cars, they play netball and volleyball, and they even occasionally run for elected political offce. Hence, women are often (wrongly) perceived as competitors more than as partners. This does not appear, however, to affect rates of marriage.